Cleveland Uber Alles

Untimely Dispatches from the Neighborhood of the Unrepresented & Inarticulate; Anecdotes that Pedal and Coast Through the Boot-Print of 20th Century American Urbanism

Monday, October 24, 2005

On the Failures of Our Fourth Estate: If Jackson is "Still an Enigma," then It's only Because the PD Won't Bother to Give Us the Answer As it is the province of pages like this one to play "armchair" reporter, Cleveland Uber Alles will, perhaps frequently, perhaps occasionally, sully itself with the dull and all too often snarky business of criticizing the journalistic standards and practices of The Plain Dealer and our Alt-Weekly Mega-Conglomerates and Alt-Weekly Mega-Conglomerate wannabees. Today, let's look at a long, Just-Who-Is-The-Candidate?-type piece that ran in Sunday's PD. Now this wasn't the most horrendous sort of the genre--you know, like the NY Times article that wasted our time with a description of how John Kerry prefers his Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwiches--but it was a prime example of an article filled with moments when a reporter failed to provide necessary context and/or simply failed to ask necessary questions. Cleveland Uber Alles doubts that Frank Jackson, or any Cleveland politician for that matter, has the kind of lights-out charisma that shuts off a reporter's critical faculties, and it doubts, too, that a piece like this lacked the sufficient time between assignment and deadline to allow the reporter to get away with such, with all due respect to Atrios, a craptacular handling of her subject matter. But, well, whatever happened, happened. And anyone hoping for some real insight on whether Jackson derserves their vote is left with this sad, sad over simplification about him: he's pro-neighborhood, anti-downtown development; his adherence to some abstract (if not nonexistent) "loyalty code" from the streets is either a) what makes him an authentic representative of the people of Cleveland or b) likely to engage the most odious kinds of patronage (Hiring a friend as "a consultant" to allow her to avoid the city's public employee residency requirement; lobbying with friends at City Hall to get constituents off the hook for their building code violations. Oh, the questions that PD reporters Olivera Perkins and Mark Naymik should have asked: like how much "consulting" has former Plain Dealer editor Maxine Greer actually done for the city? What makes her so important to the city council, beyond her friendship with Jackson, that there was some justification in hiring her in a way that would allow for the residency requirement to be waived? Did Jackson himself (who appears to have been interviewed for the article) believe that there was any conflict between this hiring and his "neighborhoods first" philosophy? I guess we'll never know. And what about the people whom Jackson helped avoid building code violation citations? How many of them were his ward's long suffering home owners? How many were landlords and developers who should have been forced to pay, for their tenants own good? We'll never know--at least not in the Cleveland that the PD would give us. Consider this offending passage from the article:

For his first two years as council president, Jackson thought Campbell adhered to his code [i.e. "Don't lie. Deliver on promises."]

Ultimately, though, Jackson decided that Campbell was dishonest. He says today that she lied to him about a lot of issues, but the one that infuriates him is the law that requires contractors on big projects to hire residents. Early in his career he made a promise that residents would get work on projects the city pays for.

Campbell publicly supported the law, but when the federal government threatened to withdraw money for projects if the law was enforced, Campbell opted not to enforce it. Jackson said Campbell did not tell him of her decision. He saw her behavior as a betrayal. Of him. Of the city. Jackson said he could not abide a mayor he perceived as dishonorable. So he decided to risk all and try to take her job.

So what about the Federal Government's threat to withdraw funding for these projects? Was it due to the fact that the contracts were to be handed out, patronage style, to political supporters, as in so many cities? Due to the fact that the city couldn't conduct a successful competitive bidding process? No one can tell from the article, and so what readers are left with is an unsubstantiated charge against Mayor Campbell, and blurry picture at best as to whether Jackson's "code" would be good for the city or simply more business as usual. Right now, like the many Clevelanders who couldn't be bothered to come out and vote for the mayoral Primary, Cleveland Uber Alles isn't inspired by any of the candidates and wishes the city's press organs would do a much better job in providing some facts that would aid in the process of deciding.

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